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Sin Nature or Divine Nature? part 2

August 30, 2012 Leave a comment

In my previous blog I showed that for Christians, our continuing sinful desires are attributable, not to a sinful nature, but an unrenewed mind. That is, we do not have two equal forces within us battling for control – one that desires evil, the other good. Instead, we have the righteousness of Christ in all its perfection, but a mind that is struggling to catch up with the spiritual reality of our righteousness.

I am aware that many will still struggle with this concept, but I urge you to take seriously the scriptures which clearly show our freedom from sin, primarily in Romans 6. If you continue to believe in your heart that you are still a captive of sin, then you will continue to live as if this is true. It reminds me of a memorable scene from Shawshank Redemption, one of my favorite movies. The movie is about a group of prisoners in Shawshank Penitentiary. In a pivotal scene, the character Red (played by Morgan Freeman) says the following:

These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, it gets so you depend on ’em. That’s institutionalized.

There are a lot of “institutionalized” Christians out there. They’ve become so used to the walls and bars that keep them imprisoned, that they can’t imagine life without them. Even though Jesus’ sacrifice has broken the chains that kept us bound, and flung open the prison doors that kept us restrained, many of us have chosen to remain in our prison cells, sleeping in confinement rather than living in the freedom that has been purchased for us.

Yet there is a continuing struggle to get our thoughts into perfect alignment with the spiritual reality that already is, as the previous analogy indicates. The problem is not that we are in need of freedom, the problem is that we need to recognize that we are already free! Let’s delve a little deeper into this:

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Galatians 5:17

Some see this verse  as evidence of a dual nature within us – there is our sin nature (i.e. flesh) and the divine nature (i.e. the Spirit). In fact, this concept is so embedded in many people’s minds, that there are even some translations (namely, the NLT) that use the words “sinful nature” here instead of “flesh.” However, the word “flesh” here is not referring to a sinful nature, but simply sinful desires. Thus our sinful desires are in contradiction to the desires of the Spirit of God who lives in us. Really, the pivotal verse in this passage is the one that comes before this one:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Galatians 5:16

If there were two equal but opposing “natures” in us, then there would be no hope of ever truly overcoming the desires of the sin nature. Yet here, Paul gives a very simple solution – walk by the Spirit. That is, direct your life, guide your steps, give yourself wholly to the divine nature which now exists in you, and it will utterly conquer any sinful desire in you.

This brings up another point. Many assume that their sinful desires are evidence of a continuing sinful nature. Many feel that if there was no continuing sinful nature, then those struggles would not exist. Though this may sound surprising, I believe this struggle is quite possibly the best evidence that your nature has in fact changed! When you were a sinner, there was no struggle at all when you sinned. However, now that you are righteous, your momentary lapse in judgment, your reversion to what was creates a sharp dissonance that is troubling to you. Everything in you screams that this is not right, that you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing and a great sorrow and remorse sets in. If your nature had not changed to desire righteousness instead of sin, you simply would not have this experience.

But again, so many are “institutionalized” to believe that they can never be free, that they can never break loose from the grip of sin on their lives. There is simply nothing sadder than a Christian continuing to live in bondage when such a glorious freedom has been purchased for them and placed at their fingertips.

Whatever sin you are struggling with today, simply lay it down. Acknowledge that God has something far better for you, trust him. You are already free! Whatever you once were, whatever sins you once committed, whatever failures you once endured, know that you are these things no longer.

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
1 Corinthians 6:11

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Sin Nature or Divine Nature?

August 29, 2012 2 comments

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Ephesians 2:3

 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
2 Peter 1:4

A generally accepted perspective on the Christian life is that we, even after we have been born again, maintain a “sin nature” which compels us to sin, to turn from God and to desire what is evil. A line from a famous hymn echoes this belief:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Take my heart, Lord, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

But is the Christian truly prone to wander, in the sense that he will always have an unconscious and uncontrollable urge to sin? The above verses seem to indicate otherwise. The first, Ephesians 2:3, shows that we once lived “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind,” implying that we no longer live in that state. Similarly, Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,” once again indicating a drastic change from what was, to a now Christ-centered life. Another popular verse says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The second verse from above, 2 Peter 1:4, tells us that we “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” So, if we once lived in the passions of our flesh, and we have now escaped the corruption of sinful desire, then we are no longer under the curse of sin.

Furthermore, not only the curse, but the power of sin is broken in our lives, as Romans 6 says repeatedly:

6 We know that our old selfwas crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set freefrom sin…14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace…18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness…22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Again in Romans 8:2, Paul says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” It’s funny that one of the scriptures that is often used to support the idea of a continuing sin nature, is found in Romans 7, sandwiched between these several verses about our freedom from sin. The verses often used from Romans 7 are:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Though these sentiments are often shared by well-meaning Christians, we must read the whole context to understand what Paul was truly saying. In this chapter Paul deals with the relationship of sin and the Law. However, according to chapter 6, we are under neither, for “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” In fact, Romans 7 tells us the same thing in verses 4-6:

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Thus, the statements about not doing what I want to do, and doing the things I hate, were a projection of the mind of the man still serving the Law, and bound by his own sin. But we have died to the Law, we are free from sin, and we now live by the Spirit! Thus the “law of sin and death” is broken by the “law of the Spirit of life.”

So then, from where do our sinful desires come? In order to answer this question more fully, we must understand the process of salvation a little better. Man consists of three parts–spirit, soul, and body–and thus salvation happens in three stages or phases:

SPIRIT
At the instant a person believes in Jesus and is born-again, their spirit, which was previously “dead in trespasses and sins” is made alive, and that person now has a perfect, spotless “inner man” bearing the image and likeness of Jesus. Inwardly, that person is now perfectly acceptable and pleasing to God – not based on his own works, but on the works of Jesus who gave His perfect righteousness to us as a gift.

BODY
We also have a promise that one day our bodies will be transformed into glorious, resurrected bodies, like the one Jesus now has. Sickness, disease, pain and suffering of any kind will not be known in these new bodies. This will occur when Jesus returns.

SOUL
The soul, or the mind, is the intermediary between the spirit and body, and is in a process of sanctification. Though our spirits are transformed instantaneously, our minds must be renewed gradually, as Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This verse presents two potential paths – conformity with the world, or transformation into the image of Christ. The two are mutually exclusive. As we grow in faith and in the knowledge of God’s will, our minds (and thus our lives) come into alignment with the perfect righteousness of Jesus which we already possess. Our actions do not affect our standing with God, only our faith does. However, our actions do affect our human relationships, the law of sowing and reaping affects many of the circumstances and situations we face.

Thus, our continuing struggles with sin are not due to a sin nature, but to an unrenewed mind. Before you came to Christ, perhaps you were addicted to drugs or alcohol, but now you realize that God has something better for your life, and that such addictions are not pleasing to Him. Thus, by the power of the Spirit, you change your life. This happened because you began to think God’s thoughts about your situation. You acknowledged His word, and followed the leading of the Spirit and were transformed by the renewing of your mind. In fact it was the new nature within you that caused a conflict regarding the sin in your life, and compelled you to change.  The conflict is not between two opposing natures within you, one that desires to be righteous, and the other that desires sin. Rather, the conflict is between your renewed spirit, and your unrenewed thoughts.

Okay, this one’s long enough, I’ll have to make it a two-parter…

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The Mountain and the Valley

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

I heard an awesome message at church yesterday. Listen here if you like. In it, my Pastor spoke briefly about the story in Matthew 17 in which Jesus took Peter, James and John up onto a mountain and was transfigured before them. What I never realized before, was how this story overlapped with another familiar story – one in which Jesus’ disciples were unable to cast out a demon.

Here’s the short version:

Jesus took three of his disciples up onto the mountain, and left the other nine behind. While on the mountain, Peter, James and John had the most significant experience with God I’m sure they ever had. God’s glory descended in a cloud, Elijah and Moses appeared, talking with Jesus, and God’s voice boomed out, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!”

Meanwhile in the valley, the other nine were approached by a man needing a miracle for his son who was demon possessed. Though they did their best, they were unable to cast the demon out. After Jesus had come back down and cast the demon out, his disciples asked why they were unable, and He said, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Here’s the thought that occurred to me: maybe the nine would have been more equipped to meet the need had they been up on the mountain and seen the glory of God. Maybe their faith would have been stronger after such an experience. But then, had they been up on the mountain, would they have even known about the need?

This is where it all hit me – we need the mountain, and we need the valley. Many Christians, understandably, want to remain up on the mountain, just like Peter who suggested they pitch a couple of tents and camp out up there. Though I think every Christian who has experienced God’s glory, His manifest presence, would similarly be inclined to camp out wherever the glory falls, it must be understood that we are not given such experiences solely for our own benefit. As tempting as it may be to stay on the mountain, soaking up God’s presence, eventually we are called to take that glory from the mountain down into the valley where it is needed.

In this story, there was a boy with a need – a need only God’s glory could meet. This boy needed a miracle, and for whatever reason, those nine disciples didn’t have enough–of whatever–to meet the boy’s need. However, had they been up on the mountain with the others, who knows if they would have ever known about the need?! Here’s my point, as Christians, we need the glory of God in our lives. We need to have, both personally and corporately, experiences in which the presence of God overwhelms us and we are filled anew with the Spirit of God. But we need to take those experiences, and go find a need and meet it, then come back to be filled again.

Some people labor, admirably and honorably, in ministry, serving others, but rarely find their way into God’s presence to be filled and strengthened. Such people toil much, strain and push in ministry, meeting every need they can. Often, such people are only minimally successful. They try, but accomplish little. Their efforts are commendable, but not their results. These are like the nine in the valley. They see the need and are willing, but unable to find the necessary spiritual strength.

There are others who become so addicted to the experience of God’s presence, that they are never motivated to do anything but worship or pray. I’ve known such people. Ever eager to gather in someone’s living room with a guitar, ever eager to attend a meeting, often able to spend hours in prayer and worship before God. Though their spiritual focus is commendable, even enviable, I have found that such are often unconcerned with reaching the lost, and sense no responsibility to anyone but themselves, they know no ministry except to the Lord. Such are like the three on the mountain, rightly amazed and in awe of God’s presence, and willing to camp there forever.

The wisdom of Jesus prevails, however. The Master went up onto the mountain, and He came back down from the mountain, bringing the glory and the power with Him. It is in the valley, not on the mountain, where the need is. But it is on the mountain, not in the valley, where the power is.

So my question to you is simple – which are you? Are you a mountain climber, or a valley dweller? And what are you going to do to find the proper balance?

Blessings.

Jeff

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